Sometimes a picture is worth 1000 words. Pictures can also convey a lot more emotion, eliciting accolades or empathy.

Visual Display of Technical Progress
Visual Display of Market Progress
Visual Display of Fun

As shown in the three figures, “Visual Display of Technical Progress”, “Visual Display of Market Progress”, and “Visual Display of Fun”, graphically displaying how projects are doing and how the people on the projects are feeling can be concisely communicated. Oftentimes in R&D organizations where motivation is important for project success, pictorial views of the projects are an improved communication tool over monthly reports.

Studies have shown that it is important to show not just technical progress but also whether or not progress is being made in the marketplace. Both have to be happening for commercialization success.

The other metric that studies have shown important is to acknowledge the natural cycle of excitement and despair that goes with any project. The cycle goes from initial elation at the start of a project, then into the pit of despair, and finally out the other side as a project goes commercial.

Another way to more quantitatively graph a project’s progress is to plot specific elements of sales and marketing success on a vertical scale in specific elements of technology manufacturing success on the horizontal scale. These milestones come from the hurdles present in Stage-Gate or Agile/Lean Project Review questionnaires. An example is shown in the “Project’s Progress” figure. Ideally a project goes up the 45° line but often either marketing or technical progress goes faster slower than expected. This visual display of information shows a manner in which projects are succeeding are struggling. It is especially useful when used to create a dashboard of such images for all projects in an R&D or innovation organization’s portfolio. .

R&D Organization Dashboard

At the organizational level the “R&D Organization Dashboard” figure shows a sketch of a dashboard used to track the performance of a Fortune 500 Corporate R&D laboratory. The indicators across the display show in pictorial form anchored scales that the executive team and CTO have previously agreed upon. The advantages such a display are that the dozen metrics that the executive team finds important in their allocation of operating and capital budgets to the R&D group are displayed in one spot. As a corporation’s environment changes over quarters and years, the executive team can easily see if the corporate R&D organization is being managed in a way that matches the environmental changes. From a presentation standpoint it was easier for the CTO to have one graphic display that could be used to ground the executive team at the start and close of any presentation.

The key to understanding information is to display information in a comprehensible form. A checklist of possible display options is captured in the “Periodic Table of Visualization Methods” figure. Understanding what an audience can comprehend most quickly and what image will remain in their mind over time (sticky) should drive selection of the most appropriate display.

Periodic Table of Visualization Methods